LAKEVIEW — The CEO of a hospital outpatient clinic with a mission to help the uninsured is under fire from local activists for skirting two meetings meant to discuss roadblocks to affordable health care.
Members of the health care task force of the nonprofit Lakeview Action Coalition said they have been asking for seven months to meet with St. Joseph Hospital CEO Dr. Roberta Luskin-Hawk to talk about problems at the Laboure Outpatient Clinic, a facility with the mission to help uninsured and low-income community members receive treatment.
After scheduling meetings, Luskin-Hawk canceled at the last minute twice, coalition task force members said.
A St. Joseph official said the hospital sent other staff members to meet with the activists — an approach the coalition calls unacceptable.
A team of 15-20 people decided they needed to meet with Luskin-Hawk after patients said certain paperwork requirements were unnecessarily barring people from receiving timely care.
For example, the clinic has a "presumptive eligibility" rule in which the homeless or people on food stamps do not have to apply for financial assistance.
Several clients who meet presumptive eligibility have been asked to apply for financial assistance, which led to delays in care or unnecessary confusion during the billing process, activists said.
"I had a wonderful experience from the hospital," said Mike Baines, a homeless man who said he received good care for kidney problems but was hounded for money for weeks afterward. "The financial part of it was a nightmare for me."
The task force did not find out Luskin-Hawk canceled a meeting in early March until after members showed up, said Erin Ryan, president of the coalition's board.
Luskin-Hawk had a scheduling conflict, but her staff was present, and she assumed they would be able to address the coalition's concerns, according to clinic director Maria Chicchelly. A second meeting scheduled for March 20 was canceled 1½ hours beforehand because Luskin-Hawk could not attend.
The task force feels it's important to meet directly with the CEO — and because they are partners, expecting access is acceptable, the activists said. St. Joseph is a dues-paying member of the coalition and has always said it's committed to working to provide affordable health care, Ryan said.
But the hospital has demonstrated a lack of follow-through with this "discourteous" behavior, Ryan said.
"We had a whole team of people who had rearranged their schedules to be there," she said. "We feel really strongly that the buy-in to fix some of these problems that we’re finding needs to come from the top."
Luskin-Hawk met with the coalition twice in 2012, and coalition members were asked to join two committees at the hospital related to health care access and anti-poverty efforts, Chicchelly said.
"We are dedicated to caring for many of LAC’s members, regardless of whether they are able to pay for that care," Chicchelly said.
Activists said that since those 2012 meetings, financial assistance policies have changed due to a merger between Resurrection and Provena Health Care, the parent company of St. Joseph. They now have new concerns.
The hospital and the coalition have been in contact to set up another meeting to discuss client concerns, but another date has not been set. Chicchelly said the hospital has offered to have staff members attend a meeting until then — something the task force refuses.
"I want to have the CEO hear from my mouth: Here is a patient of yours," Baines said. "You’re falling short of expectations to the homeless community and the less fortunate. You should take a look at it and be aware of what is happening."